Residents plead with Summit County Council to stop sound wall
November 18, 2017
Members of Citizens Against the Wall, a group opposing a noise barrier along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch, pleaded with the Summit County Council on Wednesday to intervene in the process on their behalf.
The Utah Department of Transportation announced earlier this month that it would be moving forward with the balloting process to determine whether a small group of homeowners most affected by the interstate noise are in favor of a controversial noise abatement measure. The proposed wall would be a combination of a berm and sound wall to mitigate traffic noises between the Jeremy Ranch on-ramp and Hidden Cove Road.
Citizens Against the Wall members Tom Farkas and Max Greenhalgh appealed to the County Council at a public meeting to adopt a resolution or, at the least, hold a public meeting to explore what options are available to the Council to pursue.
"You could go on record for our tourism and all the great things we have accomplished to preserve the natural beauty of our corridor to say we are against concrete walls in Summit County," Greenhalgh said.
Last winter, UDOT completed an environmental analysis in anticipation of a climbing-lane project that will add an additional westbound lane between Jeremy Ranch and Lamb's Canyon in the spring of 2018. The study revealed current traffic noise levels in lower Jeremy Ranch warrant mitigation.The additional lane will only slightly increase the problem.
UDOT recently determined that a wall with panels ranging between 7 and 17 feet on top of a variable-height berm would meet federal guidelines and adhere to UDOT's noise abatement policy.
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The County Council did not go so far as to adopt a resolution on Wednesday, but members did agree to host a discussion with UDOT representatives on Monday, Nov. 20, at 4 p.m. in the Sheldon Richins Building. Public comment may be accepted at the meeting.
Kim Carson, County Council member, said the Council has held several meetings with UDOT, in addition to conversations with those directly affected by the noise and those against a sound wall.
"We have really worked hard to have something proposed," Carson said. "We have told them we prefer not to have a wall and we truly believe UDOT would prefer not to have a wall. But, they have these statutory requirements to use that federal funding, though, for the climbing-lane project."
County Council Chair Chris Robinson said the county was notified on Tuesday that UDOT sent ballots this week. He said the first deadline for ballots to be returned is Nov. 30 and the final deadline is Dec. 14.
Robinson asked at the meeting what sort of legal action the county could pursue to stop the balloting process. The measure will move forward if three-quarters of the 24 homeowners allowed to vote submit ballots and it garners a margin of support of at least 75 percent. If approved, the berm/wall would be constructed along with the additional climbing lane and a wildlife overpass.
Dave Thomas, the county's chief civil deputy attorney, said the county could possibly pursue an injunction to stop UDOT from polling the electors. But, he cautioned, the courts will not stop the project if there is only a proposal at this point.
"What you would do in the end is challenge the actual project," Thomas said. "But, part of the problem is are they violating their own rules or are they violating a statutory constraint that says they can't do the project? If it's one of their own rules, a lot of times they are able to waive those rules."
Thomas said he was unsure whether the county would have to file the injunction in state or federal court. He said it depends on whether UDOT is using federal or state money. He added, "We would probably have to get outside counsel to pursue this."
Farkas, a resident of South Ridge in Jeremy Ranch, said he questions the benefits and merits of the new berm and sound wall combination. He claims the proposal does not meet UDOT's standard cost criteria for projects and will not mitigate noise as much as the affected residents think.
"They have the audacity to say the cost of building the wall meets their allowable cost, but they haven't included the cost of construction," he said. "We showed it didn't met the cost criteria, but we have not heard anything back from them yet."
UDOT officials have adamantly denied Farkas' claims.
Farkas said it is critical to hold a discussion with UDOT in a public meeting about the new proposal to allow residents to review the changes.
"I know people will be balloted," he said. "But, I think it's important to have a discussion on each side about what it costs and whether it meets their cost criteria, and we request that you ask UDOT to delay their balloting."
Farkas and Greenhalgh's statements were made during the County Council's public comment period. UDOT represenatives were not present at the meeting.
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